Former EuroLeague MVPs Theo Papaloukas and Juan Carlos Navarro played central roles on some of the best teams in the first two decades of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. They had a similar winning character with very different on-court skills.
Papaloukas was a member of the 2000-10 All-Decade Team as one of the greatest playmakers in competition history. Though Navarro was one of two players chosen to both All-Decade Teams, here the focus is on the achievements that earned him a spot on the latter squad when he was older, wiser and more of an all-around threat on offense.
Papaloukas reached his prime in his first stint with CSKA Moscow, from 2002 to 2008. Arguably the best sixth man in competition history, Papaloukas was not a scorer but he was a tall, strong player who re-defined the point guard position. His high basketball IQ, incredible court sense and ability to come up big in clutch situations made him a unique weapon.
A natural scorer, Navarro was at his best in the early 2010s before a series of injuries prevented him from having an even stronger career. Still, he finished it as the competition’s all-time leading scorer (4,152 points) and dished more assists in his second decade in the EuroLeague (453 in 178 games, 2.54 apg.) than in the first (381 in 163 games, 2.33 apg.)
In the 2000s, Papaloukas played three consecutive EuroLeague championship games with CSKA and lifted the trophy in 2006 and 2008. He was the 2006-07 EuroLeague MVP, earned Final Four MVP honors in 2006 and was chosen to the 2005-06 All-EuroLeague First Team and to the 2007-08 and 2008-09 All-Euroleague Second Team. He finished the decade with Olympiacos Piraeus and also played for Maccabi Tel Aviv before returning to CSKA for his final season, 2012-13.
Navarro won his second EuroLeague title in 2010 and was named Final Four MVP. He was selected to the All-EuroLeague First Team in 2009-10 and 2010-11, for the third and fourth time in his career, and to the 2011-12 and 2012-13 All-EuroLeague Second Team. With Navarro as the team’s go-to guy, Barcelona played in four of the first five Final Fours of the decade. Navarro retired in 2018.
Papaloukas and Navarro faced each other for the first time at the 2003 EuroLeague Final Four. Navarro scored 8 points in a 76-71 semifinal victory en route to the club’s first EuroLeague crown. Papaloukas had 2 points in his Final Four debut. After that, Papaloukas won five of his next six games against Navarro, including a 75-84 victory in the 2006 semifinals. Papaloukas scored 19 points in that game after which CSKA bested Maccabi for the championship.
Their first duel in the next decade came in the 2010 EuroLeague championship game. Navarro shined with 21 points in leading Barcelona to an 86-68 win over Papaloukas’s Olympiacos. Papaloukas scored 12 points. Their final matchup came in the 2013 third-place game; CSKA beat Barcelona 74-73. It was also Papaloukas’s last game in the competition. The two players combined to make 17 Final Four appearances; Papaloukas made it to European basketball’s flagship event nine times and Navarro eight.
Both players have officially been named Euroleague Basketball Legends. In fact, Papaloukas handed Navarro his trophy at Palau Blaugrana on March 14, 2014.
They were very different players, but real winners, and we can all agree on this: how great would it have been to see them play together!